Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Racing to the Sky: The Algonquin Hill Climbs

NASCAR returned to Chicago earlier this year with a thrilling street race through the city. The Chicagoland Speedway hasn't hosted a race since 2019 and NASCAR's return sparked a lot of buzz for the upcoming event and interest in Chicago's racing past. NASCAR's roots in Chicago date back to 1954 when Dick Rathmann, driving a Hudson Hornet, won the July 10th race.

But what about Illinois' racing roots outside of Chicago?

Let's talk about the Algonquin Hill Climbs, a motorsport tradition that captivated our community in the early 20th century. From their inception to their eventual decline and hopeful resurgence.

Origins of the Algonquin Hill Climbs:

The Algonquin Hill Climbs were a thrilling series of motorsport events that took place in the 1920s and 1930s. The concept was elegantly simple—brave racers would compete to conquer the steep, challenging hills of Algonquin in record time. These climbs pushed both drivers' skills and their vehicles to the limits, making for an exhilarating spectacle.

MCHS Collection

The first race took place on Perry Hill in 1906. The event kicked off on September 8th at 11 AM. Later that day, at 2:30 PM, a second race was held on Phillip's Hill, starting at Morton's House. The hills were steeper than. Today, roads are built and graded to make driving safer.

Crowds gathered along the hillsides as racers from near and far converged on Algonquin, all vying to etch their names into local racing lore. Year after year, the Algonquin Hill Climbs became an annual highlight that drew thousands, establishing our town as a motorsport destination.

The Spirit of Competition:

More than a race, the Algonquin Hill Climbs fostered a sense of camaraderie and the love of the sport. Lifelong friendships and rivalries formed, extending far beyond the racecourse. Racers and the companies they raced for vied for the win, but also in the standings for engine efficiency. Motor companies battled it out in the standings for the best result using the formula: (climbing time X cylinder capacity) / weight of the car. This ensured manufacturers were on a level playing field. 

MCHS Collection 

As for the racers themselves, Webb Jay, Walter White, Frank Leland, and Edgar Apperson made their names on our hills.

The local community rallied behind this unique tradition, with businesses and residents uniting to support and celebrate the event.

The Decline and Rebirth:

Regrettably, as times changed and motorsport evolved, the Algonquin Hill Climbs gradually faded into history. The echoes of roaring engines were replaced by silence, leaving a void in the hearts of motorsport enthusiasts.

However, like the resilient spirit of McHenry County itself, the legacy of the Algonquin Hill Climbs refused to be forgotten. In recent years, a dedicated group of enthusiasts and historians have set their sights on resurrecting this cherished tradition.

2004 Recreation, MCHS Collection
Today, the recreations of the Algonquin Hill Climbs capture the essence of the original events while adhering to modern safety standards. Vintage and modern race cars now roar up the hills once more, reviving the thrill of the past for a new generation of spectators. These recreations serve as a living tribute to the rich racing heritage of McHenry County, rekindling the daredevil spirit that once gripped our community.

A Hope for the Future:

The return of the Algonquin Hill Climbs reminds us of the value of preserving traditions and the enduring spirit of our community. While they are not yet back to their former glory, the recreations offer hope—a glimmer of what might be. As with any great endeavor, it may take time and collective effort to fully resurrect this beloved tradition, but the dream of once again experiencing the thrill of the climb persists.


The Algonquin Hill Climbs are more than a racing event; they are a piece of our local history, a symbol of resilience, and a celebration of competition's indomitable spirit. Whether you're a racing enthusiast or simply appreciate the unique stories that shape our community, the Algonquin Hill Climbs embody McHenry County's enduring essence.

By: Rachel Seidner, Research Librarian


Algonquin Historic Commission. (2004). Conquering the hills...Algonquin hill climbs 1906-1912. MCHS Research Library Collection.

Purn, Donald V. (n.d.) Algonquin hill climbs 1906-1914 resource book. MCHS Research Library Collection.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Why we're still vital...

Libraries came into existence when books were expensive, difficult to copy, and often irreplaceable. The ability to gather them in one place was beneficial, as it allowed these materials to be shared among lots of people. Books were now indexed, grouped together, and protected. Ever wonder why some of our oldest libraries look a lot like fortresses? Well, it's because they were.

                                                                                                          Bodleian Library (Google Images)

Over time, libraries played more roles than just gatherers of books. Libraries became guardians of knowledge and curators. In their role as curators, libraries curated information for their owners, communities, and the world at large. As the amount of information increased, the need for people trained in the art of the search became more and more vital. No one has the time to search through vast collections to answer their question.

Librarians started apprenticing for degrees in information science, learning all about how to find things. They also dedicated themselves to a commitment of neutrality or, at least, an absence of bias. Fast forward to today, and the idea of libraries and their commitment to collecting materials and expertly guiding them might seem quaint or even obsolete. I mean, we have the World Wide Web, right?

The Web has search engines that quickly and effortlessly index the information it contains. This leaves libraries only with the task of digitizing their materials. But is it really?

“Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.” 

Libraries remain necessary for free and open societies. And not just because their services of curation to preservation to research remain in high demand by scholars. In a broader sense, libraries complement the Web. Here's why.

The Web makes information easily available and copied. However, it's also easily corrupted or destroyed. How many times have you clicked on a link only to find a 404-Not-Found error at the end of it? I know I've encountered this far too many times. The reason is simple. Links rot; sources evaporate.

And what about the increasing problem of misinformation and Fake News? The Web allows anyone to post anything. Companies and volunteers are facing an unwinnable battle against misinformation and ensuring that inaccurate posts are taken down.

The preservation of truth is important, now more than ever. Libraries, such as ours, house centuries of information, history, and truth. Libraries are important defenders in the fight against misinformation.

By: Rachel Seidner, Research Librarian 

Monday, July 24, 2023

So, you've got a question for the library...

One of our most popular research requests involves property questions. But, did you know? You can get a great start on answering these types of questions on your own. All you need is a phone or computer and the Internet.

Say you'd like to know more about who owned your home. Well, let's start with your address and head over to the McHenry County Recorder's Office online free public records search database ( While this isn't the best way to search, your address is a good starting point.

Let's try an example. Let's enter 220 E South Street, Woodstock, IL 60098. Some of you may recognize this address. Any guesses? It's the Bundling Board Inn near the Woodstock Square!

So, if you've followed along, then you realize that searching by address didn't bring up any results for us. So what now? Now, if you know the name of a current or past owner, you can try a second search using the name. However, say we don't have that information.

Well, next we try the McHenry County Property Tax Inquiry. Why? Because your taxes are searchable by your address. Even better, though... Your tax records have your property's legal description and parcel Number. So, what are a legal description and a parcel number?

The legal description is the precise location and measurement of real property. You use your legal description when transferring the title because it is more accurate than your address. The Parcel Number is your Property Identification Number (PIN). In our example, the legal description is "DOC 2022R0003579 W PT LT 1 /EX W 4FT/ BLK 1 STRODES ADDN" and the parcel number is 13-08-129-032. 

Now let's put this information to use. Let's return to the Recorder's Office site and search by parcel number. This provides us with several more records for the property, including ownership records. As for the legal description. Well, here's where we come in!

Here at the research library, our collection includes atlases dating back to the 1800s. Using the legal description, we can locate the property on these atlases. Many, especially older (less populated) ones, will include the names of those who owned the property. Filling in the blanks in the Recorder's records.

Returning to our example, we'll use McHenry County Atlases, search by town (Woodstock), and for Lot 1, Block 1 of Strodes Addition. Town centers rarely have names listed, though, so no luck identifying owners in our 1892, 1908, or other atlases. But, if there is a name, structure, orchard, barn, etc. to be found, that is where we'll find it for you!

Saturday, July 1, 2023

Welcome to the Stacks!

The Stacks... Sounds ominous, doesn't it? No worries. The Stacks refer to our shelves containing physical materials in our collection.

Our stacks are closed, unlike public libraries. Despite this, they are still accessible to the public. Our library volunteers retrieve books and other materials for patrons upon request. It is also necessary to schedule an appointment to view materials in person. 

Now for the fun stuff. Our collection includes local histories of McHenry County, ranging from books to magazines to newspapers, photos to maps, obituaries to tax records. Ever wondered what your high school's past graduations and reunions were like? Our School Files contain pre-1900 materials, including programs and photos. Ever wondered what Marengo High School looked like in 1908? Well, we have a newspaper clipping with an image of the school that year!


How about peeking inside an old contractor's business ledger? What about seeing E. D. Patrick's blueprints? 

Having realized that we have many fascinating pieces of history in our stacks, you may be curious to know what else we do with those pieces. We are working hard to make more material available digitally. Our Research Library page has links to newspapers, obituaries, Heritage Farms, and our "Life Before" series. And, while we can't make everything available online for the public, we are adding to our online file index. This way, you can determine what information we likely have before making an appointment or requesting a search.

(MCHS & Museum)

Published by: Rachel Seidner, Research Librarian

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Happy Pride Month Everyone!

As we reflect on the hard-fought journey to acceptance, let's take a moment to recognize and celebrate the contributions of members of the LGBTQ+ community to our local, national, and global histories. In honor of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan, June is set aside as Pride Month annually. 

At MCHS, we take a special interest in local McHenry County history. If you visit our Research Library page, you’ll find an article published in the Richmond Gazette in 1976 entitled “Gay Pride Week??" which highlights contrasting opinions between Californians and locals regarding the gay pride movement.  

Beginning with reflections on how one gave up drinking, this article then deliberates on Mayor Bradley's declaration of "Gay Pride Week" in Los Angeles, with seven days of celebrations and parades for the LGBTQ+ community. Even after all these years, you can feel the author's incredulity at such a statement. Not just a day, but a whole seven days!

Jumping ahead to 1997, Dan Phelps provides an approving review of the film "In and Out" in the McHenry Star paper - while lamenting the media overplaying 'the kiss' between Tom Selleck and Kevin Kline. What Phelps accentuates is that it was only a minor fragment of what the movie had to offer. The media is all too happy hunting for "the truth"...who is and isn't gay. The movie and individuals are so much more and offer so much more to shine a light on.

Jump to the present...

Let's take a moment to celebrate the courageous efforts of Lou Ness and others in McHenry County who worked tirelessly to have the Board recognize June as Pride Month! Another shout-out to the Northwest Herald for highlighting this moment!

As our newspapers reveal, our road has been bumpy with an occasional rock slide on our path, we should be applauding the acceptance that has been growing in some aspects of humanity, media, and politics and striving for it in others. It's really something special!

Celebrate McHenry County!!!


Monday, June 5, 2023

An Evolving Library

We continue to adapt and grow as we celebrate 60 years of history. While some changes are more noticeable - such as our new staff members and museum exhibits - others happen behind the scenes. As the newly appointed librarian, I'm entrusted with the exciting task of expanding our digital presence. Alongside creating a digital index of our library's vast and varied content, we're currently engaged in digitizing our obituaries and oral histories. Our efforts toward achieving this vision are constantly ongoing, and we look forward to our journey ahead together!

As a newcomer to McHenry County, I couldn't have asked for a better opportunity than this. Diving into the history of my new community is an immersive experience that I thoroughly enjoy. 

We've got you covered when it comes to digital collections of primary resources! Check out our local newspaper collection and other resources on our website. Our library and volunteers are working hard to digitize more of our collection, including scrapbooks! While we work toward that goal, you can find an obituary index in PDF format. And don't forget to explore our statistical resources, like our birthplace data from 1850 and wartime records. We're constantly adding new digital collections and indices, so stay tuned! 

Posted by: Rachel Seidner, Research Librarian

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Welcome All!

Wow, can you believe it? The incredible Museum is turning 60, and our beloved Library has served the McHenry County community for 40 years! How amazing is that?

The McHenry County Historical Society Library is more than just a collection of dusty books and archives. It's a treasure trove of knowledge and history waiting to be explored. Dive into the past with us and discover the stories of the people who shaped McHenry County. 

Racing to the Sky: The Algonquin Hill Climbs

NASCAR returned to Chicago earlier this year with a thrilling street race through the city. The Chicagoland Speedway hasn't hosted a rac...